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Crooked Stalks: Cultivating Virtue in South India (Hardback)
  • Crooked Stalks: Cultivating Virtue in South India (Hardback)

Crooked Stalks: Cultivating Virtue in South India (Hardback)

Hardback 344 Pages / Published: 16/10/2009
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How do people come to live as they ought to live? Crooked Stalks seeks an answer to this enduring question in diverse practices of cultivation: in the moral horizons of development intervention, in the forms of virtue through which people may work upon their own desires, deeds, and habits, and in the material labors that turn inhabited worlds into environments for both moral and natural growth. Focusing on the colonial subjection and contemporary condition of the Piramalai Kallar caste-classified, condemned, and policed for decades as a "criminal tribe"-Anand Pandian argues that the work of cultivation in all of these senses has been essential to the pursuit of modernity in south India. Colonial engagements with the Kallars in the early twentieth century relied heavily upon agrarian strategies of moral reform, an approach that echoed longstanding imaginations of the rural cultivator as a morally cultivated being in Tamil literary, moral, and religious tradition. These intertwined histories profoundly shape how people of the community struggle with themselves as ethical subjects today.

In vivid, inventive, and engaging prose, Pandian weaves together ethnographic encounters, archival investigations, and elements drawn from Tamil poetry, prose, and popular cinema. Tacking deftly between ploughed soils and plundered orchards, schoolroom lessons and stationhouse registers, household hearths and riverine dams, he reveals moral life in the postcolonial present as a palimpsest of traces inherited from multiple pasts. Pursuing these legacies through the fragmentary play of desire, dream, slander, and counsel, Pandian calls attention not only to the moral potential of ordinary existence, but also to the inescapable force of accident, chance, and failure in the making of ethical lives. Rarely are the moral coordinates of modern power sketched with such intimacy and delicacy.

Publisher: Duke University Press
ISBN: 9780822345145
Number of pages: 344
Weight: 635 g
Dimensions: 234 x 155 x 25 mm

"Crooked Stalks might be read for the sheer lyrical quality of its prose. It draws from two distinct philosophical traditions, and has borrowed from Tamil cinema, something that greatly adds value to a book set in Tamil Nadu, where cinema, ideology and politics have been incestuously bound together in the twentieth century. The book is richly footnoted, comes with a fine glossary and an exhaustive index. It is a product of hard work and has taken good shape in the hands of an anthropologist who has kept his feet on the ground without building an ivory tower of theory and methods around his work." -- R. Venkat Ramanujam Ramani * Book Review *
"Crooked Stalks is comprehensive, theoretically-sophisticated, and persuasively argued. Scholars and students interested in South Asian agrarian history, ethics, development issues, and agrarian thought will find this book compelling." -- A. Whitney Sanford * Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics *
"[Crooked Stalks] is a fascinating and insightful study. . . . Its strengths are numerous. . . . [Pandian's] insistence that the self-awareness of savagery among the Kallar is an instrument of self-transformation is an important extension of Elias's seminal work on the history of manners." -- Satadru Sen * Environment and History *
"Anand Pandian's beautifully written Crooked Stalks is animated by a deep engagement with the moral life of an erstwhile classified, condemned and policed 'criminal tribe': the Piramalai Kallars of the Cumbum valley of south India. . . . [R]eading Crooked Stalks filled this reader with both pleasure, as she got a rare and beautifully written insight into the life of a people, as well as a sense of deep foreboding as to the future of marginalized communities in South Asia." -- Annu Jalais * Pacific Affairs *
"Anand Pandian . . . skilfully piece[s] together a coherent, well-grounded, nuanced, and highly relevant work that is, moreover, so well written that you may find yourself wanting to read the book thoroughly and carefully, cover to cover. . . Pandian's own achievement, in Crooked Stalks, is surely one of the best and most important works on the anthropology of the Tamil people published during the last hundred years, and it certainly will form part of the canon of the subject for decades to come." -- James Frey * Itinerario *
"Anand Pandian's poetically composed book about the Piranmalai Kallars in the Cumbum Valley in southern Tamil Nadu is a timely addition to this genealogy of theorising. It represents an important intervention that opposes the tendency to prioritise structure, power and interest over considerations of the ethical dimensions of culture in the anthropology of India. This is one of the first analyses of how actors themselves ruminate on an ethical life, firstly by defining how it is that they ought to live and, secondly, by postulating pragmatic means through which to live as they ought to." -- Indira Arumugam * Contemporary South Asia *
"In this elegantly written and beautifully crafted book, Anand Pandian explores the connections between ways of making a living and the ways in which people make themselves as moral beings. . . . Crooked Stalks builds on and extends a rich vein of research on Tamil culture and on the colonial history of India. It is particularly illuminating in regard to the study of colonial governmentality and in general is a first-class study in the anthropology of morality, deserving of a wide readership." -- John Harriss * American Anthropologist *
"Pandian is a virtuous ethnographer, a civil participant in multiple traditions. . . . Pandian's concerns are profoundly demotic, and as such they constitute a salutary reminder of what, as anthropologists, we might offer to wider conversations about what it is to lead a good life. Because the horizon of improvement is often so important to our interlocutors, it is ethically necessary for us to treat local dreams of development with the dignity they deserve. . . . There should be nothing shocking in such a stirringly anthropological call to arms, but this is but one of many things we always knew but had forgotten until reminded by this supremely thoughtful book." -- Jonathan Spencer * Cultural Anthropology *
"Overall, Crooked Stalks provides a rich account of the lives of Piramalai Kallars in Tamil Nadu. . . . The subjects of the book are as vivid, lively and dynamic as landscapes, dams, schools, state institutions, parrots, monkeys, oxen, and cows. These lively subjects are examined in the contexts of nature, civility, oppression, colonialism, power, knowledge and hegemony. . . . Let's hope that the book will be used by scholars, anthropologists, historians, sociologists, and students working on colonial south India as a source to understand the power-politics and hegemonic impositions of law and order and civility in India and other post-Colonial lands." -- Vineeth Mathoor * Anthropology Review Database *

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